VATICAN CITY, OCT. 26, 2001 (Zenit.org).- A papal envoy plans to meet Saturday with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and the Minister of Religious Minorities, as the Muslim country continues to grapple with fallout from the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” was sent by John Paul II on a mission of peace to Pakistan, a nation of 150 million that is 97% Muslim.
With this initiative, the Pope wishes to “confirm his closeness to all people who are suffering because of the war, especially the refugees who are crowding in ever greater numbers on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said a press statement distributed by the Vatican Press Office.
Archbishop Cordes is also carrying a letter from the Pope to Pakistani bishops, in which he says, “The sufferings of countless men, women and children cry out for practical relief.”
“In particular, the painful situation of the many refugees calls for immediate efforts on the part of all those who are in a position to help,” the Pope continues.
“United as we are in the Church´s universal solidarity with all the world´s peoples, we must ardently hope and pray that the bright star of peace may soon shine again over your region,” the Holy Father says.
For this reason, “Archbishop Cordes will examine with you the concrete possibilities open to the Church in Pakistan for assisting our brothers and sisters in need.”
Caritas International launched a worldwide appeal for $11 million to assist refugees in Pakistan and residents in Afghanistan.
The papal envoy will also meet with heads of Catholic humanitarian organizations and the local Caritas in Pakistan.
On Sunday, Archbishop Cordes will preside over a Mass in Rawalpindi´s cathedral. The Mass will be attended by bishops and members of the country´s Catholic community, “to break the chains of hatred and injustice and implore for the gift of peace,” the Vatican note states.
The German prelate will also visit refugee camps in Peshawar, to offer them, personally, the Holy Father´s consolation.
“Now more than ever it is important to live the love of neighbor concretely, either by helping refugees or with humanitarian assistance,” the Vatican statement concludes.
Despite border controls, some 60,000 refugees have crossed the border into Pakistan since Sept. 11. Humanitarian workers estimate about 1.5 million hungry and homeless people might leave Afghanistan.
Pakistan says it has already accepted 3 million refugees and cannot accept any more.